From Russia With Love- Updated

There is a certain sort of person that is just so self-absorbed and generally unaware that it just doesn’t feel wrong to gossip about them, they’d just enjoy the extra attention. In my childhood ward it was Brother L.- in that ward people traded gossip about Brother L. like baseball cards. In fact it feels so normal to gossip about him that I’m having a tough time not filling this post with endless stories about stupid things he’s done. He was, in short, a tough person to get along with, and take seriously (I think it was his Dracula hairdo, but that’s neither here nor there). I eventually came to think of him as an egotistical-yet-harmless old bachelor. A man that, despite his annoying ways, had probably gone through his fair share of disadvantage and heartache. He was still a child of God who deserved all the respect, love and compassion the ward could muster.

This past Christmas I heard something that shook my resolve to not think poorly of him to its core: he was taking a trip to Russia for just about the only thing an egotistical lonely old man would go to Russia for, a mail-order bride.

There are some (many?) who would call such an arrangement a marriage of convenience. A man wants companionship, affection, someone to do the housework and (let’s not kid ourselves) sex. A woman wants out of an oppressive nation, US citizenship, and some luxuries too. Some will even point out situations where cold, heartless women, once they are US citizens, summarily divorce the men they married to get here, leaving him alone, heartbroken, and publicly humiliated.

When thought of that way, the situation seems practically harmless because everyone gets what they want, and both parties are vulnerable to abuse of some sort. Then I remember that the abuse of getting your feelings hurt, and being publicly humiliated pale in comparison to the potential abuse that the bride subjects herself to. (Also, I find myself asking, what does such a man expect? When the major selling point of marrying you is your citizenship and money, why be surprised to learn that the woman who took you up on the offer doesn’t care about your feelings at all?)

Is it really fair for a wealthy American man to take advantage of a woman’s lower order needs (Physiological & Safety) to satisfy his own higher order needs (Love & Esteem), especially considering how common it is for the man to keep his bride dependent on him while he ignores her higher order needs altogether. Such a situation is a marriage of convenience on one end and marriage of desperation on the other. Also, while everyone may need love, companionship, and compassion, isn’t the best way to go about it to earn it by being a nice person rather than buying it from someone desperate enough to fake it?

How do we, as a church, deal with such relationships? The idea that romantic love be central to a marriage is a very modern and western concept, as is the idea that a woman is not her husband’s property. The majority of marriages in our own church were like this in the past, and in other cultures many still are like this. It must be compatible with our doctrine to some extent, so why does it still feel so wrong? Does the fact that a legally binding marriage is involved make the strong undercurrent of prostitution okay?

Lastly how do you deal with the real people involved? How do you respond to the young woman he’ll bring with him to church, especially considering that this is probably the first time she’s even heard of the LDS Church at all? What could someone do to ensure that her interaction with the church is positive regardless of what her marriage is like? If you get involved at all what should your goals be? Break them up? Keep them together? Make it into a wholesome arrangement? Send them to the Temple?

Update: Through poor writing on my part I failed to make clear what the main goal of this post is. I want to discuss why or why not the absence of western-style love in a marriage relationship is acceptable among members of the church. What are doctrinally acceptable reasons to marry someone, and how do you treat someone who has entered into an acceptable marriage even if you personally disapprove of it for social or cultural reasons.
I do not really want to discuss the specific brother involved. I mention him and his situation as an illustrative case of a marriage arrangement that makes me uncomfortable. I also want to make it clear that the international nature of this marriage is not what makes me uncomfortable, what does make me uncomfortable is the intrinsic power imbalance in the relationship and the potential for abuse.

54 comments for “From Russia With Love- Updated

  1. gst
    January 24, 2007 at 12:22 am

    My law partner recently met the wife of opposing counsel (a man of, shall we say, limited personal appeal), a mail-order bride, not Russian, who is so bored at home that she follows her husband to work every day, including to court, just to have something to do. Her husband doesn’t mind because she’s stunningly attractive, and he thinks the attachment reflects well on him. Anyway, my partner chats up this lady during a lull in the mediation and it turns out she’s LDS! I don’t think her husband knows.

  2. Aaron E
    January 24, 2007 at 12:32 am

    I think I hear where you are coming from but arranged marriage vs. mail order bride doesn’t seem like a huge difference to me and aren’t arranged marriages a long and noble tradition back to Isaac etc. compared with the short-lived history of love marriages. Reasons to get married and stay married are not all so simple as true love. They include economics, convenience, physical etc.–a mixture of altruistism and selfishness.

    Playing into stereotypes a bit here, but is the not-so-cool US Mormon who marries (pick a country) non-US mormon sister where there are not enough LDS men really so different? If I’m born with money and good looks and that convinces a girl to marry me is that so different from waiving a temple recommend or US passport to catch fish.

    I’m not recommending this to anyone but as for a reason to think “poorly of someone to the core” this does not do it for me. Although the driver of that van that pulled in front of my bike yesterday morning on the way to work definitely deserves this…

  3. January 24, 2007 at 12:36 am

    Don’t be so quick to judge. Everyone has the right to make their own mistakes, both the brother in question and his potential Russian bride.

    He actually sounds a little like me: over-the-hill, and having champagne tastes on a beer budget.

    I’ve also known at least two men, one a member of the church, who’ve bride-shopped in Russia. So far, they’ve only been online, and haven’t gone over there. The member who has bride-shopped via dating web sites has shown me the profiles of many of the women who’ve corresponded with him.

    I’m of the opinion that this brother that I know is honest enough about himself, and wants to go through a courtship phase, that he will not mislead his correspondents, and he will reveal himself through such courtship (whether online, via email, or phone, or snail mail) sufficient for the correspondents to make informed choices about him. And, I also believe that when things click with someone via long-distance courtship, that he will take it to the next level and go there, or have them come here for a visit and furthing sizing each other up in an honest manner.

    But I think you’re ignoring the domestic US-based analog of older men in the US using the Internet or other services to find a bride among women in the US. The same rules basically apply. The men who shop for Russian brides (or Filipina, or from whatever country) run the whole gamut of quality. They’re not all like the brother in question. And I think you’re doing Russian women a disservice by implying they’re too naive to compare among the various men seeking them out.

    A couple years ago, a 40 year-old elder in our stake married (in the temple) a 20-something year-old member from another state, (yes, state). They found each other online. I think they only had a few face-to-face encounters, and most of the courtship was done online and via phone.

    I don’t know if one’s bishop and stake president have to give a special temple recommend for a temple sealing even after one has a regular temple recommend. But, let’s just say that it was obvious to everyone who knew this brother that he had such problems that had no business getting married. I have to wonder if the guy’s bishop and the stake pres knew he was planning to get married. If they did, they chose not to tell this guy not to, and they did not try to “warn off” his fiancee.

    Had I known in advance what was going to transpire, I would have suggested to the faincee’s parents that they put her up here in town in an extended stay hotel for a month, or find an unmarried sister with whom she could live for a month, and get to know this guy by actually dating him several times a week, and hopefully realizing what he was going to be like after the I-do’s. Had she then refused to move to town for a least a couple weeks of face-to-face courtship, I would have seriously considered revealing what I believed his situation to be.

    After their marriage ended (rather quickly), I agonized about how no one stopped it. But after a while I realized he went through a tremendous growth in the aftermath. It took that short marriage for him to better realize his situation, and work on it. And I assume that his ex-wife also learned a huge lesson, and it’s possible she “needed” to learn some sort of lesson as much as this guy did. One thing I see that I have in common with this brother, is that we both have to learn from our mistakes. I honestly don’t see how this brother would have worked on improving himself had he not had that huge, although very painful, wake-up call.

    By me remaining single, and I’m now in my late 40’s, I know I’ve avoided a gut-wrenching divorce. But am I really better off for having stayed single, or should I have paid the price of a divorce to go through the growth that I needed (and still need)?

    If the brother you speak of is mis-representing himself, or taking advantage of someone, or if you think he is an abusive type, then perhaps you do have some type of an obligation to inform his internet-mail-order-bride service (if he’s using one) of those facts. But even that is debatable.

    However, if he’s being honest about himself, and is not an abusive type, then I think it would be unfair to interfere. I think the most you can do is encourage him to research how to take steps to do what he can to assure that he doesn’t get taken advantage of.

    He’ll probably treat his Russian dates the same way he has treated women in the United States. And with enough face-time, I’m confident that they’ll realize what kind of person he is, and make their decisions accordingly.

    I could tell a different story how a female LDS friend of mine married a non-member man from Central America. She was in love. He just wanted a ticket to citizenship, but she couldn’t see it. They had a kid. It didn’t last. And he caused her a lot of problems. But she still says she has no regrets. Both would have done it again had they to do it over again.

  4. Beijing
    January 24, 2007 at 12:42 am

    “Does the fact that a legally binding marriage is involved make the strong undercurrent of prostitution okay?”
    You could ask this of any marriage where one partner marries the other for the money. Or where, say, the spouse who enjoys sex more also happens to be the spouse who brings more money into the household. Crass money-for-sex undercurrents aren’t any less morally questionable when both spouses are from the same part of the world.

    I would feel worse about the mail-order thing if the woman were truly dirt poor and desperate, such as from Darfur. But moving from Russia to the US is kind of like moving from rural Mississippi to New York City. She could almost certainly survive and be safe where she is, but her life will be easier and more opportunities will be open to her if she moves. I think it is OK for a woman to calculate whether the risk of a bad marriage is worth the opportunity for a better life. Maybe I only say that because I was corrupted by pro-mail-order forces when I read “Sarah, Plain and Tall” at a young age.

  5. Starfoxy
    January 24, 2007 at 12:55 am

    I feel I should clarify at least one thing before the discussion goes on much longer. Brother L. is at least in his 70’s, possibly early 80’s.

  6. gst
    January 24, 2007 at 1:02 am

    It’s becoming increasingly clear that you are attracted to this man and that this post is about your sour grapes.

  7. January 24, 2007 at 1:27 am

    Perhaps a Russian babushka will like his Dracula hair-style.

  8. Starfoxy
    January 24, 2007 at 1:55 am

    gst- Your keen insight is unsettling.

    Aaron E. – I think you may have misread me. I don’t think poorly of this man to his core. I had resolved as a youth to not think poorly of him despite his difficult nature. This latest news has shaken that resolution.

    Beijing- I agree wholeheartedly with this: “Crass money-for-sex undercurrents aren’t any less morally questionable when both spouses are from the same part of the world.” I’m less concerned about the international nature of the money-for-sex relationship than I am about the fact that it is a member of the church participating in such an arrangement.

    Bookslinger- I should clarify that I see this man, at best, once a year. I may never even meet his bride (assuming he actually gets one). I will not be getting involved in this particular relationship at all, and would not involve myself even if I lived nextdoor to them (unless the police needed to get involved, which in this case is unlikely).
    You say “But after a while I realized he went through a tremendous growth in the aftermath. It took that short marriage for him to better realize his situation, and work on it.” I really hope this is the case, and that the arrangement can serve as a catalyst for positive change in his life. My biggest fear is that this woman will associate her potentially bad marriage with the church and the gospel. I’m curious how members of her ward could share the gospel with her, understanding her unique situation, and be a positive force in her life.

  9. queuno
    January 24, 2007 at 2:06 am

    I know a guy who went to Russia to get a bride. She met him and REFUSED to marry him (picking life in Russia over life with him).

  10. Bookslinger
    January 24, 2007 at 2:23 am

    Queno: or else she had a plan-B guy.

    Starfoxy: Does this stuff qualify as gossip? I’m starting to feel guilty. I often tell my conscience that if you leave the names off, it isn’t gossip. But I think it is. If someone were to show them a copy of all this, would they recognize themselves? And how would they feel about it?

    An aside: my understanding is that most Russians, especially those that look for American hubbies, already speak enough English to at least get by, or better.

    Also: Most major cities have a Russian ex-pat community. Even Indianapolis has a Russian/Ukrainian restaurant, a Russian language school for kids (evenings I think), and a couple Russian delis. A local international center type group estimates 5,000 Russian immigrants in the greater Indianapolis area.

  11. random me
    January 24, 2007 at 2:43 am

    when my husband first started learning russian, he always had at least one person in his class who was learning russian to better communicate with their “mail order bride.” they were always small, close-knit classes (and thus more “chatty”) and it was interesting to see how the men in his classes came to their marriages.

    i guess it’s not much worse than my sister-in-law who married a foreigner, neither speaking much of each other’s language. when asked how they communicated, she would slyly reply, “body language.” years later, they’re still madly in love… and his english is a LOT better!

  12. Norbert
    January 24, 2007 at 5:07 am

    This is just an extreme form of what I call Matrimonial Imperialism (you heard it here first) which I think is quite common in the church. The idea that a missionary would meet someone on his ‘foreign’ mission, go back afterwards to pitch some woo, then wisk her off to Boise is a pretty basic element of church culture in the USA. The degree to which she is expected or encouraged to maintain her own cultural identity probably varies quite a lot, but I would imagine that generally it would be expected that she would fit right in. Some of the women that have done this from Finland have reported back that they get hostile reactions to speaking Finnish to their kids at church, are expected to revel in American patriotic celebrations, etc.

    I have met several LDS men — four in the last year — who have come to Finland for the express purpose of finding a wife. (They have all been unsuccessful. I think their concept of Finland was faulty, expecting it to be more like Russia or Eastern Europe, which was perhaps true from an outsider’s point of view fifteen years ago.) I wonder if this happens in other places as well. (I googled ‘LDS Russian bride’ to see if someone was specializing — gratefully not.)

    In addition, isn’t there a tolerance or even a tradition of short courting periods and engagements in the church? ‘We knew after six days, and were married three weeks later.’

    Of course, I am a little sensitive about this subject. I came to Finland from the USA single and got married while here the first time. I’m 37 and a bit of a giant ogre, while my wife is 30 and could pass for seventeen. We used English/Finnish dictionaries sometimes while we were dating. There were father-daughter mixups when we lived in the UK. Of course, we have no intention of returning to the states any time in the near future, and I had no intention of getting married while I was here. I also did not serve a mission here. But I know my family wondered, and I think some members who don’t know us well may look a bit askance.

  13. January 24, 2007 at 6:39 am

    Let’s not lose sight of the ugly reality that underlies a lot of this stuff.

    Many Russian girls are lured-in with the promise of “study abroad” in Britain or the US, but end up being robbed and sold into sex slavery by organized crime elements.

    It happens a lot in Russian, enough to where the UK authorities have pointed it out as a serious problem.

  14. Peter
    January 24, 2007 at 8:12 am

    Amen, Norbert. My wife married a foreigner too and we can sympathize with the askance looking.

    Where we live, Austria, the interior minister recently said he’s going to crack down on marriages with foreigners as he claims there’s too many of them using marriage as a way to “fix” their illegal status. Sounds like he and Starfoxy would be able to spend lunch exploring the common ground of their prejudices and questioning the matrimonial motives of people they don’t know.

  15. January 24, 2007 at 9:57 am

    Ah, you’re not “a bit of a giant ogre,” Norbert–you’re a great big lovable teddy bear. (Unless you’ve been filing your teeth again.)

  16. January 24, 2007 at 11:11 am

    I have nothing to say about this man or his marriage. But this post serves as a warm reminder of one of the greatest days of my college career: my roommates obtained a mail-order bride catalogue and we went through the pictures and the women’s descriptions of themselves and their interests (ex. “I like stamp, banknote…”). Hours of sustained laughter.

  17. Mathew
    January 24, 2007 at 11:12 am

    ” I think it is OK for a woman to calculate whether the risk of a bad marriage is worth the opportunity for a better life.”

    This is exactly the calculus everyone I know used when getting married.

    “is the not-so-cool US Mormon who marries (pick a country) non-US mormon sister where there are not enough LDS men really so different?”

    No. Neither is the well-off old dude who marries a much younger woman. Anyone who thinks economics don’t play a huge part in marriage decisions in every part of the world is either a poor student of human behavior or didn’t attend BYU. Of course differences in economic status can lessen one partner’s bargaining power within the marriage, especially when they are far from home and isolated from family and community and that can lead to a bad situation.

    On a side note, those of us who met our foreign born wives in the more competitive American market dislike the practice of bride shopping abroad and the assumptions it engenders. How would you like it if everytime you show up in a new ward someone asked if you served a mission in Asia?

    Finally, this post seems out of place on T&S. Reading it gave me the same shock I imagine long-time readers of The New Yorker experienced when Tina Brown became editor.

  18. KLC
    January 24, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    P, you may have good intentions but from an uninvolved reader this looks like more gossip disguised in clothes of theological inquiry.

  19. Kaimi Wenger
    January 24, 2007 at 2:05 pm


    This post raises interesting questions. Thanks for bringing it up.

    First, it raises questions about people who are excluded from the prototypical Mormon narrative. You know, the “perfect Mormon couple” — the good-looking returned missionary Eagle Scout with a good job and/or education prospects, his good-looking and intelligent (but not too highly educated) sewing-cooking-YM-medallion wife, and their six kids. Church members can be awfully cruel to people who don’t fit the mold — single members, members who marry late, members who are less socially adept, members who are too well- or not-well-enough educated, and so on. And for me, the post does raise some of those questions. On one level, it’s “look at this weird brother and his social ineptness” and that invokes some of the worst in church culture.

    On the other hand, the story also raises real questions about gender imbalance in marriage. Men already enjoy a cultural advantage over women in marriage, and much about church culture and doctrine reinforces that imbalance. A Mormon marriage doesn’t have to be unbalanced, and there are prophetic statements supporting equality; on the other hand, for one who wants to see them, there are also a number of statements that can be read in strongly male-dominant ways. And church culture is often highly tolerant of men who dominate their wives.

    Those questions are exacerbated in the context of a mail-order bride — someone much younger than her husband; alone in a new country without much in the way of social support networks; perhaps suffering from language difficulty, culture shock; potentially vulnerable because of her legal status.

    All of those factors suggest that if he wants to be abusive, he’s got much more latitude to do so in the context of this marriage, than he might have in the context of a domestic marriage.

    On the other hand, what’s the remedy? He’s an adult, and so is she. People voluntarily enter into abusive or dominating relationships all the time, having judged that they’re worth the cost. (Ask anyone who’s ever worked for a New York law firm.)

    It won’t be a perfect marriage. But then, no marriage is perfect. I’ve known people who had foreign brides, and who ran into problems in their marriages. But then, I’ve also known a lot of domestic couples with problems.

    So, at the end of the day, I suppose the ward’s response should be: To make sure that the wife feels supported and socially accepted. To avoid gossip or exclusion. To be there, in case she needs help, if the situation becomes problematic (i.e., abusive). And other than that, to leave them alone, as adults, to figure things out on their own.

  20. C Jones
    January 24, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    RE: #17 and #18
    I don’t know if you are both male. But to this uninvolved reader, your comments look more like the bias of those who take for granted their traditional position of power in relationships. From a female point of view, I think this post bravely raises all sorts of good questions.

  21. KLC
    January 24, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    C Jones, people see different things in what they read; I certainly don’t reject what you see, I find it strange that you would reject what I see merely on an assumption of what sex I am.

    If the original post had just said something like, “someone I know is looking for a mail order bride, to me that raises some questions…” instead of commenting on the person’s reputation, character flaws and hairstyle maybe I would have seen things differently. But the emphasis of the original post was as much on gossipy perceptions as it was on theological quandries.

  22. January 24, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    I think this discussion would have gone quite differently if Starfoxy had used as an illustration a marriage between a couple who were, say, average doing-their-best Latter-day Saints who decided to marry because they were approaching the end of childbearing years — they didn’t really feel romantic love, but were good people who hadn’t found anyone else but were willing to make a commitment to each other and family. Then we’d be talking about the essential ingredients to a marriage.

    Frankly, at my age and single state, I’d be cautiously willing to entertain alternate reasons to marry and ways to meet a satisfactory mate, since it seems that the sparks-a-flyin’ love match ain’t a-gonna happen. So what exactly *is* a satisfactory mate, absent the Hollywood model and in a Mormon context?

    /Knowing full well that she has opened herself up to all kinds of bizarre comments, she presses the send button … /

  23. Starfoxy
    January 24, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    KLC- you raise a valid point. I probably should have just started the post off with exactly the phrase you suggested. There are three reasons why I didn’t.
    ~First the sort of situation I’m thinking of isn’t just an unfortunate man that has bad luck with women and is looking for some help or a ‘more forgiving market.’ I wanted to make it clear that the sort of situation I want to discuss is one that is ripe for abuse- the sort of thing Seth R. mentions in comment 13, and the ethical implications of taking advantage of that sort of situation. I hoped that by making it clear that he is an extremely difficult man to deal with it would be clear that any woman he came home with likely had no choice in the matter.
    ~Second, I really wasn’t exaggerating at all when I said that I’m having trouble not filling the post with stories about this guy. I took out a lot of stuff about him; obviously not as much as I should have, but when I compared this draft with the initial draft it looked sufficient.
    ~Third, I’m human and I did want to poke fun at his hair.

  24. mami
    January 24, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    I know people who had arranged marriages for cultural reasons, and in the temple. As far as “doctrine” goes—if that is what someone decides to do, and that is really their own choice…

  25. Matt W.
    January 24, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    In the philippines, the mail order bride issue comes up often, and it is really hard for an LDS missionary to either not hate what the culture has termed “The Dirty Old Man.” (DOM) or to not end up with what the missionary calls “Brown Eyes.” Because many philippino women really are extremely beautiful.

    Anyway, I remember sitting with a man who had moved to the philippines, a DOM in his late fourties, and frankly asking him why an LDS man would do such a thing. He responded “Look at me, I’m ugly. I got on the plane in america, and I got of the plane here and I’m a prince. What would you do.” I changed my opinion somewhat after that, but could not help but feel sad that someone would have to live with the doubt inside that “she only loves me because I’m American and have money.” That is what sad about the situation. That and the real DOMs, the ones who get a girl to think they want to help them, marry them etc, but only have nefarious purposes in mind.

    Ardis: I don’t know how to respond to you. I hope someone does.

  26. gst
    January 24, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    Also, what are the implications of these issues on Weird Science-type relationships?

  27. MDS
    January 24, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    While on a mission in Germany, I had the occasion to meet several mail-order brides from the Phillipines. A few of them had come to Germany and been baptized there. They were active in their wards, beautiful humble people, and could be counted on to do anything that was asked of them. For the most part, their husbands would sit at home in the recliner with remote in hand and holler at them to bring another beer (even when the missionaries were there to visit).

    The other was the daughter of active temple-married parents. I never quite understood what had inspired/motivated her to become a mail-order bride in Germany, rather than staying in the Philipines. She, her husband, and several kids lived way out in the rural German countryside. Her only contact with the church was a monthly visit from the missionaries, who were assigned as her home teachers, and made a monthly bus trip out to see her. Her staunch Catholic husband did not want her children to know anything about their mother’s church, so visits were required to take place while they were away at school. She strongly believed that someday she would convince her husband to move back to the Philipines, where he would be baptized and she could be sealed to her kids. I must confess I didn’t share the same optimism.

  28. Ben H
    January 24, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    On the one hand I think marriage is complex, and we should be very cautious about judging people who marry with motives different from the ones we would want to have. Russia and the Phillippines and lots of other places are really messed up in a lot of ways, and marriage is an effective way to get out of there. So I think we should exercise some deference to the judgment of the hypothetical woman here. I also would be very, very surprised if this guy comes back with a gorgeous twenty-year-old, because Russia isn’t that bad.

    But I think the most interesting question here is not, “What are the right motives for marriage?” That is a very important question, but so many reasons can reasonably enter in that it is hard to say anything general, especially in a blog post. It’s too big.

    Rather, the most interesting question is, “What role should church leaders play in deciding who gets married in the temple?” From what I understand, you do have to have a specific recommend for the ordinance of marriage, just for that ordinance, besides your regular recommend. And I think those issuing the recommends should use their judgment in issuing them. Otherwise, what is the point of the procedure? I know cases of people getting married who should not have been getting married in the temple, and the leader could have known if he had been doing his job, finding out about the couple and how ready they were. If that means sometimes people who are perfectly well-prepared and know what they are doing are delayed because a leader is not convinced yet, I’m okay with that. An interview is a chance to give guidance that some couples sorely need. I think leaders should do their job as judges here.

  29. Rich
    January 24, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    SF, I hate to chime in with some of the opposition, but I can’t help be reminded of something I saw in a Woody Allen movie once that nearly all men find amusing, and most women do not.

    It’s not a direct quote, but the dialog went something like this:

    Woody is visiting a prostitute for the first time. He’s very nervous. He tells the woman, “I’m sorry, it’s just that I’ve never paid for sex before”.

    She replies, “Oh honey, you’ve been paying for it all along, you just didn’t realize it”.

    I think many men at some point (especially those of us who have had shall we say less than ideal marriages) find themselves feeling like they are good for nothing more than bringing home a paycheck and taking out the garbage and fixing broken sprinkler heads and various other sundry tasks on the growing “honey-do” lists their wives give them. I once heard a neighbor confide in my wife that she knew exactly how to get her husband to buy her certain items she wanted, and it involved the use of sex as a tool for manipulation (she has since left him for another). This is probably not as rare as you might like to think. Then again, maybe I’m looking at the world through very jaded eyes as one who is currently in the midst of a painful divorce, and don’t have a clue about most women…?

    BTW, I used to home teach an older, bald, rather homely guy who met a Russian woman online (she was LDS) and married her. The U.S. State Dept. made him go through all kinds of legal challenges and grief before they would approve the marriage and allow her to emigrate here, so I don’t think those kinds of arranged marriages are as simple to pull off as they might seem.

    In his case, they spent many months daily online and thousands of dollars in long-distance phone bills getting to know each other. As far as I can tell, they seem really happy together.

  30. January 25, 2007 at 12:24 am

    Otherwise, what is the point of the procedure (of obtaining an extra recommend before a temple marriage)?

    A temple recommend represents worthiness to enter the temple. A live ordinance recommend (extra interview in the case of the priesthood) is required for every saving ordinance that we perform for a live person in the church: baptism, priesthood ordination, endowment, sealing. This is partially to ensure that the person is ready to accept the consequences of their decision.

    However, in the church handbook of instructions it specifically forbids priesthood leaders from telling people who to marry or not to marry. I think that probably includes “you shouldn’t get married.” I, for one, am grateful for this instruction. It prevents priesthood leaders from over-stepping the bounds of their callings and exercising un-righteous dominion over their flocks.

    The bottom line for me is that, though people often make foolish decisions about who to marry, and I’ve attended several sealing ceremonies where I wondered if the person I knew so well was making the best decision, or was marrying for “the right reasons” I’ve had to bite my tongue the same way a bishop or anybody else should bite their tongue in the end, because, in the end, we need to allow other people to exercise their own agency and make their own decisions. That’s the whole point to our existence here: learn to exercise our agency properly within the confines of our mortal bodies.

    That doesn’t mean I have to think every marriage decision that my friends make is wonderful and great, but it does mean that it’s, in the end, their choice, not mine, who they marry. A good example story of a bishop, in my opinion, coming close to over-stepping his bounds is here. A reason why I think bishop’s shouldn’t be able to withold a temple recommend (even though they might not think highly of the sagacity of the parties marrying, nor the wisdom of their decision to marry) is because that would be the exact opposite of the Lord’s way of doing things.

  31. January 25, 2007 at 12:52 am

    The opposite gender dynamic may come into play in the near future in regards to China. China now has an excess of 20 million males (ie, the number of men who exceed the total number of women) due to their one-child policy that was enacted in the 1970’s. (Through abortion and infanticide of girls.) So approximately 1/3rd of them are in marriage-able years, and the rest of that 20 million will likely be old enough to marry by the time China officially recognizes the church and opens to missionary work.

    (I may be mistaken, and the 20 million figure is comprised totally of those over 18, and would be even higher if you count the excess male minors.)

    Of course, the Chinese mail-order husband companies don’t need to wait for China to open up to our missionary work before they start operating. (You heard it here first. I predict such companies will spring up soon if they haven’t already.)

    But if missionary work goes great guns in China (like many expect), those “excess men” in China, will show up on the radar, and make an impact upon the many single LDS women around the world who have not been able to find a suitable mate among single and worthy LDS men.

    What that means is that women in the United States (or the Philippines or wherever) who don’t find a suitable mate among the men in their area, may shop for mail-order husbands in China. And it may well be that many single US women who go shopping for mail-order husbands will then have the male’s traditional power-dynamic of socio-economic status in relation to the Chinese men looking for American wives.

    So reverse the genders. And would we feel the same way about the question?

    P.S. Although women convert to the church in greater numbers than men, I’m told that trend is reversed in Africa, and more converts there are men than women. So for single LDS women, Africa may be another source for mail-order husbands.

  32. M
    January 25, 2007 at 2:39 am

    When I was first reading this, I thought that yeah, this is totally gross, and that the Bishop, or someone, ought to intervene. But I changed my mind…

    If a bishop were allowed to decide who did and didn’t get approved to be sealed in the temple that would have been a roadblock in my parent’s marriage – because my (white) mother’s bishop didn’t approve of the fact that my father is Hispanic. Basically, the guy was racist. So really, it would probably tick me off quite a bit more if bishops had any right to say anything about someone’s right to marry another person.

    Plus I don’t see any difference between this and plenty of other church-sanctioned relationships. It’s just more obvious here, for sure, but I think plenty of people, church members included, get married for all the wrong reasons.

    The guy just wants a maid and a prostitute. The girl wants someone to provide for her. They get married, they make it work, and even if the marriage isn’t abusive, if it is devoid of love, it is prostitution. It’s just less obvious, because you can’t really tell if any two particular people love each other or have some kind of arrangement. In this case it’s pretty obvious that it’s an arrangement, but that doesn’t really make it any different than in any non-obvious case. Any marriage without love (unless the marriage is loveless but children are involved) is prostitution, just legally sanctioned prostitution.

    So the question is, can there be divinely sanctioned prostitution?

    I would say no. But that is an opinion and there is some evidence to suggest that it is wrong. As someone who is single, I find it slightly disturbing that there is less mention in the church of how in love we are with a person and more focus on a person’s ability to be a good wife/mother or provider.

    Of course we are supposed to have children, and that definitely complicates the prostitution dynamic.


  33. D.
    January 25, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    To M. Our bishop’s wife said something terribly profound one Sunday. She was told by her father that love is a choice, not something you fall into or run into. People choose to love others. If you don’t choose to love the person you are married to, then I suppose you could say that it is prostitution. However, you must remember that there is always a choice. Love is what the Gospel is all about. Choosing to love others.

  34. anonymous
    January 25, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    The Book of Mormon practically starts out with arranged marriages between the children of Lehi and Ishmael.

  35. Sarah
    January 25, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    I was told by two female Russian grad students that they’d never marry any of the regular Russian men their age. They had relatively low opinions of the girls who decided to go the mail order route, but also said they’d rather stay single than marry Russian. I don’t know if this changes as more “modern” Russians get older, and find themselves comfortable in a culture that doesn’t encourage drunkenness and irresponsibility as masculine virtues, but the 28-to-35 girls seem to me to be placing their male contemporaries in the same boat as all of those 50 year old guys (who tend to die in their 50ies, unemployed and drunk.) Such sentiments (about Bulgarian men) were also expressed by the Bulgarian grad student who taught my sister last year. This can be in part also explained by the “macho” cultural expectations of some Russian men: an American male’s desire to sit in his armchair and drink beer all evening may compare favorably with the expectations of the Russian men these women have interacted with before.

    I think in any case that the situation has to be viewed in the light of the perception that there are no eligible partners available for either group under ordinary circumstances.

    Also, anyone who thinks that mail order brides are akin to prostitution: go help out at your local YSA and SA events. Please. If nothing else it might make more sense why some people would just give up and go to another country to find a partner…

    (2003 numbers put the Russian life expectancy at 58 years for men and 72 for women; Wikipedia says they have one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and has lots of other positive things to tell you about Russian demographics.)

  36. Carolyn
    January 26, 2007 at 12:34 am


    “What that means is that women in the United States (or the Philippines or wherever) who don’t find a suitable mate among the men in their area, may shop for mail-order husbands in China. And it may well be that many single US women who go shopping for mail-order husbands will then have the male’s traditional power-dynamic of socio-economic status in relation to the Chinese men looking for American wives.”

    You have this reversed. China will be the economic superpower of the 21st century. While the U.S. with its balooning trade deficit will be left in the dust. So Chinese men will be importing mail-order brides who will be desperate to escape America. ;-D

  37. Sarah
    January 26, 2007 at 1:25 am

    Carolyn: China will still suffer all the problems relating to a total lack of liberty, the one-child policy (which created the female deficit), etc. The bureaucracy is also incredibly unfriendly toward non-citizens (though they’re starting to really implement the concept of “written” versus “hey, whatever I say goes” rules of law, for people ‘lucky’ enough to be Chinese already,) and Chinese is easily one of the hardest languages for Americans to learn (whereas English is only just about as hard as many dozens of languages for the Chinese to learn — and your average Chinese citizen is fairly likely to know at least something of English.) If people try to escape America, my guess is they’ll head for industrialized Western Europe, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, or Australia/New Zealand. Americans seem remarkably unwilling to learn other languages (more so than the British, who at least constantly wring their hands about the issue); Brazil and Mexico have at least got the “more or less developed, used to be European colonies, and many of us speak English” thing going for them. And they’re big countries, which is useful for population absorption. And moving to Australia, New Zealand, or Canada would be only about as weird as, say, moving from Boston to rural Nevada.

    Actually, given cultural and flying-distance issues, mail-order arrangements in which both a Chinese male and American female move to New Zealand to live together might be the wave of the future. I’d move to the North Island even if there wasn’t a husband attached to the deal. The extent to which that can be accredited to Peter Jackson is… not relevant to today’s discussion. ^_^

  38. Larry
    January 26, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    I love how people who don\’t even know this guy (and at least one who does) feel free to discuss, analyze and criticize his personal life and choices. Has it occurred to any of you that it\’s none of your d*** business?

  39. January 27, 2007 at 1:12 am

    Carolyn: You may be correct. But I think China will open up to missionary work prior to it actually becoming an economic superpower. And I believe the country as a whole will be an economic superpower long before they develop a sizeable middle class in relation to their population as a whole.

    Even if the (“excess”) Chinese males maintain the dominant role in the international mail-order spouse business, my main point is that those Chinese males will at least be on the radar of not only Filipina and Russian single-women-seeking-husbands, but also LDS single-women-seeking-husbands who live in the United States, especially if China opens to missionary work.

    Those people with the entreprenuerial spirit currently manifest in China certainly see the “excess males” (what’s a better shorthand for that?) as a market with a need, and are at least thinking about how to satisfy that need and make a profit.

    Larry wrote: “Has it occurred to any of you that it\’s none of your d*** business?”

    Yes. That’s why I’m trying to hijack the thread to Chinese mail-order husbands. :-)

    I used to think that as long as you leave the names out, it’s not really gossip, but my conscience is telling me that it is. I’m going to renew my effort to always speak and write in an uplifting manner, and in such a way that if the people to whom I refer were to read/hear it, we would all be comfortable with it.

  40. January 27, 2007 at 8:44 am

    the “excess males” (what’s a better shorthand for that?)

    It isn’t shorthand, but how about adapting and adopting the 19th century term: “superfluous males”? Jane Austen would love you for it.

  41. Carolyn
    January 27, 2007 at 5:37 pm


    My apologies for the continued threadjack. My comment was intended to be mostly tongue in cheek. My point was that for all intents and purposes China is already an economic superpower so don’t count on people there necessarily wanting to leave.

    I live in Toronto (or “rural Nevada” as Sarah likes to think of it ;-)). About a third of our downtown ward membership is Chinese. Sacrament meeting is conducted in English with simultaneous translation into Mandarin and Cantonese. Most of the Chinese speaking members have come from China, joined the church here and will return home in a few years. To my surprise many of them have no desire to stay in Canada. They are returning home to a booming economy.

    Also, from my perspective at least, missionary work in China is already well underway.

  42. JKS
    January 29, 2007 at 3:19 am

    My next door neighbor is a mail-order bride. She has three step-children (who live there). She speaks little English but I think her husband and three step-kids are from the same country (but perhaps the kids don’t speak the language). I think the step-mom thing isn’t going well. I wish I could do something to help her.

  43. DD
    January 30, 2007 at 4:03 am

    I think the main way to make foreign culture relationships work, or any marital relationships, is communication. And you can acquire that after marriage, if there is enough love.
    I know two people who have married Russian brides they met on the Internet. The first one is LDS, and though his wife’s English is still a little faulty, he has learned Russian to an incredible degree. She has kept her Russian Orthodox faith, but attends the LDS church with him pretty frequently. She seems to have so many LDS values from her Russian culture–she loves the idea of food storage, and canned all the fruit from his previously neglected trees. And she loves children and says she wants to have about ten. They have one now.
    The second man I knew was shy, worked with disabled children–a really kind man, who just had a hard time dating. He married a Russian woman after they emailed for a year. She brought over her three teenaged daughters, and they became interested in the church. They have a baby daughter together.
    Both these couples have better marriages than a lot of people that I know, and I think it’s because they don’t take them for granted, but work at them more than if their marriages had come in the traditional, easy, “we met in a BYU ward,” sort of way.

  44. January 30, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    “Through poor writing on my part I failed to make clear what the main goal of this post is. I want to discuss why or why not the absence of western-style love in a marriage relationship is acceptable among members of the church. What are doctrinally acceptable reasons to marry someone, and how do you treat someone who has entered into an acceptable marriage even if you personally disapprove of it for social or cultural reasons.”

    I was very interested in this topic too. I’m sorry the specific brother and Russia got os much air time. For what it’s worth, when I read the post and no comments were in yet, I was terribly interested in the subject, stumped for answers, and emotionally conflicted. I didn’t know what to say. I can’t reconcile my values and personal truths to the way other societies and church policy operate.

  45. Starfoxy
    January 31, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Cchrissyy- thanks for your comment. I was also pretty disappointed in the way the comments went- though I blame myself. In thinking about it, I decided that one major way that the thread went wrong was due to my usage of the term “Mail Order Bride.” In my lexicon, if a woman can be described as a “Mail-order-bride” she is by definition, subjected to abuse, and desperation, while her husband has no interest in her as a person at all- if that does not describe the situation, then to me she is not a mail order bride. In reading the comments it seems that to many people “Mail order bride” is simply another term to describe an international marriage of any sort.

  46. February 9, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    . Listen up all you men who can\’t find a woman in America. We don\’t want you because your worthless losers. We want educated wealthy men with looks and a good body. If you have to go to Russia for a wife. Beware. She only wants to get to America. When she leaves you; and she will. You deserve it. When you’re in Russia the women will treat you as if you were A “Rock Star” Which in fact you’re never will be! Russian women are the most beautiful women in the world. I’m Russian and so is my husband our children are extremely beautiful… But, just because we live in America. I prefer my daughters marry a Russian American. If not then so-be-it. However, who ever they marry it will be for love. Not because they want to get out of Russia.. Wake up if American women do not want you. Why would some of the most beautiful women in the world want you? Think about it.

  47. Mathew
    February 9, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    “We want educated wealthy men with looks and a good body.”

    That goes without saying.

  48. Christian
    February 9, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    Seems a little shallow and ethnocentric to call a loveless marriage an arrangement for “prostitution.”

    There are guys who fall obsessively in love with prostitutes, and prostitutes (Amy Fisher ring a bell) who fall in love with their clients. Would “love” turn the prostutition arrangement into a “marriage”? No. Neither does lack of love turn marriage into an arrangement for prostutution.

    Marriage is a mutual lifelong obligation between a man and a woman. In a free society, seems like you’d have to be nuts to marry someone that you didn’t love. But if you do, it’s still a marriage. That propaganda about divorce being OK if you just “stop loving each other” — that’s gentile nonsense. In the church, to love is a verb, and husband and wife have a duty to nurture love and keep it alive.

  49. Christian
    February 9, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    What would make a mail order situation not a real marriage would be if one or both of the parties got “married” without the intent to stay married. Love or money isn’t the issue of whether it’s a marriage.

    Does anyone have the numbers on how many LDS men and LDS women are opting for this sort of thing? Is this even numerically significant?

  50. Christian
    February 10, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    “Is it really fair for a wealthy American man to take advantage of a woman’s lower order needs (Physiological & Safety) to satisfy his own higher order needs (Love & Esteem), especially considering how common it is for the man to keep his bride dependent on him while he ignores her higher order needs altogether.”

    You can’t rationally address the questions when you mangle them like that.

    “Is it really fair for a wealthy American man to take advantage of a woman’s lower order needs (Physiological & Safety) to satisfy his own higher order needs (Love & Esteem)” is a valid question in and of itself, and deserves addressing on its own, without stacking the deck.

    The fact that it may be “common” (numbers?) for “the man to keep his bride dependent on him while he ignores her higher order needs altogether” has nothing to do with the basic original question. The rightness or wrongness for committing an action has nothing to do with how common it is for people to commit separate (clearly wrongful) action.

    Seems to me that this whole mail order brides thing is symptomatic of a larger social ill, not a social ill in itself. I’d be very surprised if it turned out that LDS folks were resorting to this sort of thing more often than the general US population. My understanding is that Sweden faces this issue more than other countries — Swedish men marrying nonEuropean women, and Swedish women seeking non-Swedish European men (particularly Norwegians). I’d be more interested in exploring *why* this sort of mass cultural suicide was going on, attacking the roots of the problem, than shaming individual participants.

  51. Mahondri
    February 13, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    What difference is his mail order bride from the various Mormon match making web sites.

  52. Mahondri
    February 13, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    What difference is his mail order bride from the numerous Mormon singles match making web sites?

  53. isreal
    March 4, 2007 at 3:22 am

    Whoever condemns the possible marriage of brother L to a much younger bride being wrong, perhaps they should also be the one to condemn Abraham for his marriage to Ketura. After all he was past 100 years old and if Ketura bore him 6 children, she would have had to been way younger. People did live longer in the bible but the women still didn\’t bare children past 45 just like today. We learn that since Sarah was in her early 90\’s and she felt it was laughable that she would ever get pregnant. What what of Abraham? Is is ok because that was his culture? God is no respector of culture. If he ever felt that age difference was so important as Americans make it, then there would have been one modern day prophet who would set us straight to this supposed ghastly evil. But to the contrary there has been no mention of it even under a prophets breath that age makes any difference when choosing an eternal companion. Lastly let us look at King David and the wife that was given to him in his elderly age just to keep him warm. She was the most beautiful girl in the land according to the Bible. Doctrine and Covenants reveals through revelation that in all of David\’s wives he had not sin accept in the case of Bathsheeba. So the Lord knowing all the facts discerning all never said that age difference was a problem. Matter of fact the case where they searched out the land for the most beautiful woman to be the bride of David to keep him warm in his elderly feeble condition i\’d say was arranged marriage. And again is revealed in the Doctrine and Covenents that in all of Davids wives he had not sinned accept in the case of Bathsheeba.

  54. isreal
    March 4, 2007 at 3:34 am

    Most all scholars agree that Joseph was an older man when he married Mary the Mother of Jesus. The lord did not condemn Joseph. He did not sin when he took a much younger bride to wife. Let us tell the Lord that we accuse all of those who have taken much much younger wives how wrong they are and that even his elect are not exempt from our American Culteral Values that says Brides and Grooms must be of a certain age or there is sin. Whosoever is least in the kingdom is greater than John the Baptist according to Jesus. So where does Brother L fall. Let us accuse him to the Lord if he is really so in ghastly sin for perhaps considering taking a younger wife. I dare say the Lord will not condemn the Husband for age difference, unless he has spoken it in his law somewhere or there is any inkling that age difference among husbands and wives is of concern to the Lord or the Father. Let’s have someone step foreward and let us hear the word of God on this subject as given by any of his servants the prophets, or i’d even accept the word of any general authority touching on how the Lord feels about the subject of age difference. I brace myself now for a long silence as to the Lords words in this subject.

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